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2012 Bios

John D. Aber (B.A. 1971, M.F.S. 1973, Ph.D. 1976, Forestry and Environmental Studies), provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), is a world-renowned scientist, educator, administrator, and public servant. His groundbreaking research has focused on nitrogen cycling, ecosystem management, climate change, and the effects of acid rain on forests. His use of remote sensing to detect chemical signals in tree canopies has enabled researchers to monitor forests, from a regional to a global scale. A computer simulation model he helped develop allows scientists to study immensely complex forest ecosystems. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 scientific papers and written the basic text in his field, Terrestrial Ecosystems. He also is co-editor of Forests in Time: The Environmental Consequences of 100 Years of Change in New England.

Aber has been a member of the faculty at the UNH since 1987. In 2009, he was named a University Professor, the school's highest honor for excellence in teaching, scholarship, and engagement. He founded and directed the doctoral program in natural resources and ecosystems and established an organic dairy research farm for the UNH. Over the years, Aber has taken on a succession of administrative posts, including director of the Complex Systems Research Center and vice president for research and public service, before being named to his current positions.

Outside academia, Aber has advised dozens of environmental commissions, chaired the New Hampshire Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (a National Science Foundation initiative), and served on the Durham Town Council, Durham Economic Development Committee, and Durham Public Library Board of Trustees.

Alfred W. McCoy (Ph.D. 1977, History), the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the world's leading historians of Southeast Asia and an expert on Philippine political history, opium trafficking in the Golden Triangle, underworld crime syndicates, and international political surveillance. He has been a member of the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1989, after eleven years at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

McCoy's research has produced seventeen books and over 200 articles, written both for scholarly and general audiences. His most recent book, Policing America's Empire: The Philippines, the United States, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (2009), won the Association for Asian Studies' George McT. Kahin Prize in 2011. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogations, From the Cold War to the War on Terror (2006) turned an international spotlight on American sensory deprivation procedures that led to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. An Academy Award-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, was based on McCoy's work. His earliest books, Laos: War and Revolution (with Nina S Adams, 1970), The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (1972), and Drug Traffic: Narcotics and Organized Crime in Australia (1980), established him as the leading scholar in the field.  Closer than Brothers: Manhood at the Philippine Military Academy (1999) exposed the strong bonding among Filipino soldiers-in-training that underpinned the military dictatorship in the postwar era. McCoy's archival research uncovered the fact that Ferdinand Marcos's military medals were fake and his release of that information three weeks before the election in 1986 helped end a repressive dictatorship.

Jonathan M. Rothberg (Ph.D. 1991, Biology), founder and CEO of Ion Torrent Systems, Inc., in Guilford, Connecticut, combines spectacular achievements in genome science and biotechnology with entrepreneurship.

After leaving Yale, he launched Curagen, one of the first high-throughput genomics companies that set out to identify and target genes involved in specific diseases and then mount efforts to develop drugs to combat the diseases. Under his leadership, from 1991 to 2005, Curagen launched more than a dozen clinical trials. During this same period, Rothberg founded 454 Corporation (now 454 Life Sciences) to develop breakthrough technology for sequencing DNA. A method he devised, the first of what are called “second generation sequencing” technologies, worked stunningly quickly and at low cost.  454 Life Sciences was also the first to release the complete genome of an individual (James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame), and has sequenced the ancient DNA of a Neanderthal.

Rothberg's next projects were RainDance Technologies, an innovative microfluidics company that carries out collaborative genomic and pharmaceutical research and, most recently, Ion Torrent Systems, Inc., which innovated a new DNA sequencing system that can sequence the equivalent of an individual genome within a few hours and will eventually make it affordable to carry out personal genome sequencing for every individual.

In addition to his commercial research ventures, Rothberg founded the Rothberg Institute for Childhood Diseases in 2001, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), a genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to form in the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin, and lungs. The institute carries out research at the intersection of molecular biology, chemistry, computer science, and nanotechnology.

Sarah Grey Thomason (Ph.D. 1968, Linguistics), the William J. Gedney Collegiate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, is one of the best known and most respected linguists alive today. Her primary research interests are historical linguistics (the ways languages change over time), contact linguistics (the influences that languages have on one another), and Native American languages of the Northwest, but her service to the field goes far beyond that. She has worked with Indian communities in Montana for some 30 years to document language varieties and work with First Nations and Native American communities on language revitalization and classroom support for language teaching. The Salish languages she studies are highly endangered and at risk of dying out altogether, if not transmitted to the next generation.

Thomason's book, Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics (with Terence Kaufman, 1989) is the standard reference work for contact linguistics. She has made major contributions to the field of genetic linguistics (language classification) and to the study of pidgins and creoles. She was invited to serve on the advisory board of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, where some of the most significant current research in historical linguistics is centered.

From 1988 to 1994, Thomason was editor of the journal Language, the most prestigious linguistics journal in the US. She has served as president of the Linguistic Society of America (the largest association of linguists worldwide) and of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and has helped promote the field of linguistics to the public by contributing to a PBS Nova program, “In Search of the First Language.”